Friday, June 12, 2009

Early education and crime

While this blog mostly focuses on the mechanics of the criminal justice system, the truth is we must look outside the framework of police, courts and prisons to discover the real causes of crime and identify the full range of possible solutions.

At this point in US history, additional spending on incarceration probably isn't worth the crime fighting bang for the buck compared to other ways that money could be spent - particularly investments in education and mental health care. So I was interested to see a couple of headlines this week here and yon promoting early education policies that seem likely to reduce crime:
The editorial, by United Way of Texas President Karen Johnson, quoted a study out of Texas A&M which "found that for every $1 invested in high-quality pre-k, at least $3.50 is returned to Texas communities. Savings for taxpayers are realized long-term because children who experience high-quality pre-k have higher rates of high school graduation, higher earning power as adults, fewer referrals to special education, and significantly less involvement with the criminal justice system."

The other link is out of Iowa, where law enforcement is pushing early education spending on the grounds:
that high school dropouts are three and one half times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly 70 percent of state prison inmates nationwide failed to earn a high school diploma, states the report. Officials said that if the male graduation rate increased by 10 percent in Iowa, it's estimated to save $88 million every year.
I wrote recently about the United Way's "Common Good Forecaster," which posited a link between education levels and crime. According to the backup material (pdf) for that web tool:
Rigorous studies show a strong link between more education and reduced rates of violent crime (Lochner 2004). A one-year increase in the average level of schooling in a community is associated with almost a 30 percent decrease in the murder and assault rates (Lochner 2007), results which are particularly reliable through high school. Of course, one important reason is that more school generally brings higher wages and expanded job opportunities and thus less incentive to engage in criminal activities. However, wages and jobs are not the end of the story. Classrooms help instill values that oppose criminality and socialize students to become better citizens. In many cases, schooling may also teach patience, reduce tolerance for risk-taking, and provide a supervised environment that tempers negative interaction among young people. And finally, youth who leave school early risk being influenced by a more negative set of peers, while those who stay are more likely to build a constructive social network and set off on a path toward productive work experiences.
Too often when we talk about crime fighting, the focus is solely on the cops and the courts. But factors like education can be equally critical. Indeed, there's a case to be made that, with prison populations bursting at the seams, the best way to chip away at crime isn't locking even more people up but helping more young kids have a better life.

RELATED: From the Denver Daily News, "Fewer prisoners = more graduates?"

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Here we go. "It's society's fault."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Where do you read that, 6:54? I don't think that was the message either from the Iowa cops or the United Way.

kaptinemo said...

It's not just education; kids have to have something to give them a sense of self-worth.

I was lucky; while other kids were fooling around and getting in trouble with the law, I had become a member of a CAP squadron, and spent much of my adolescence learning valuable technical and people skills and having a sense of pride in applying those skills in Search and Rescue missions. Those skills and the self-discipline I gained in the process stood me well later in life.

But even with all that, education won't amount to much if the kids don't have something to look forward to when the school system spits them out and there's no jobs. Back to square one, and for far too many that's bound to lead to that aforementioned trouble with the law.

This country's infrastructure is crumbling...and a lot of that infrastructure was built during the Great Depression. Some of it was built by kids back then, in things like the Civilian Conservation Corps and other groups.

I'm naturally leery of national programs that smack of involuntary servitude, but if it truly was voluntary, with experienced adults in charge, why not revive a similar program where a kid could learn a trade while going through school? Actively gain real-world experience instead of sleeping in a classroom? Rebuild this country again, and the people doing it would have a sense of pride and accomplishment, just as their grandparents did. Worth thinking about.

Anonymous said...

This is the most pathetic argument of all time! There is absolutely no relationship bewteen education and criminal behavior. Don't get me wrong, I believe those individuals that have no education are more likely to end up in the system, but is not the education systems fault; its the worthless parents that need to be held responsible. The problem is, the government can't mandate the actions of families in their homes so we turn to the education system and hold the teachers responsibe.

My wife is a teacher and she stresses out around TAKS time because no matter how much effort she puts into the success of students, she will ultimately be held accountable for their success or failure. (even though she has only known the child for a few months). If a kid strugles in education the parents of that child are directly responsible!

I have two children in school. If I did not make them get up every morning to go to school, they would sleep in every morning. When my daughter gets home from school, she is more interested in knowing what Hannan Montana is up to rather than studyng for a test the following day. I am directly responsible for my childs success.

These kids that continually score poorly or fail to graduate, go to their house and visited with the family and you will see where the failure lies........its not the education system..

Supremacy Claus said...

There is lawyer rent seeking. There is teacher rent seeking. No mention of lawyer and PC caused bastardy, which causes both educational failure and criminality.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:23 - what exactly, is a "pathetic argument"? You don't seem to be responding to anything in the post and just ramble on about your wife and kids. Personally, I don't consider it a problem that "the government can't mandate the actions of families in their homes." In fact, I don't believe the government should do so. That doesn't mean the government should just give up identifying and pursuing policies that reduce crime.

You and 6:54 seem to think this is all about assigning blame, which is fine if you only care about demagoguing about crime instead of reducing it. Yes, individuals are responsible for their own misbehaviors. But if policy couldn't CHANGE individual behavior, the very concept of prisons and the justice system would be moot. Similarly, research and common sense both tell us that education policy can change behavior as much or more than punitive measures.

Try being less defensive. Nobody's blaming your wife.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you need a real job! That's your problem. You sit around reading the lastest data or study, but you have no idea how the real world works! You need to teach in a classroom seating for a while or supervise a caseload.

Education is not broke! The problem is parenting and the breakdown of the family!!

I guess this is the part where give me your resume and all of your experince making you an expert. You are a typical ACLU windbag! With all due respect, of course!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:24, why are you here wasting your time if I'm such a charlatan? I suppose you think the cops in Iowa calling for more early ed funding also just "sit around reading the lastest data or study, but ... have no idea how the real world works."

You're awfully defensive at the mere suggestion that increased early education spending might reduce crime, which is all that was said in this post. Seems a bit over the top to me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, kaptinemo - I'd suggested a similar scheme awhile back, now that you mention it, aimed at helping probationers fulfill job requirements (which is something, I learned recently, that the City of Austin does for juvenile probationers, some of whom do graffiti cleanup). Did you ever see this post?

Supremacy Claus said...

Egypt rebuts all left wing self-serving propaganda to increase government jobs, such as special ed teaching.

Low literacy rate. Crushing poverty. Crowding unseen anywhere. Low crime rate.

There is no independent evidence that education decreases crime. It is a marker of intelligence, ethics, and self-control. It is not a cause of it.

The main cause of criminality is the lawyer. Get rid of the criminal lover lawyer, and cut crime by 99%. It immunizes crime, promotes it, and increases it to generate lawyer jobs.

There was a natural experiment in the Sentencing Guidelines. The public screamed about Fallujah like conditions in our cities. The lawyer took the power away from the criminal lover lawyer on the bench, and increased prison times. Crime dropped 40%, a tremendous lawyer achievement. Education and all the other false propaganda factors did not improve 40%. It deteriorated even more.

Then, Scalia, the most conservative Justice led the attack on the Guidelines and ended them as mandatory.

Now, crime will bounce back, in the Scalia Bounce.

Anonymous said...

I think your anonymous poster is trying to say that parents should do a better job of parenting their children. I'm sure we all agree on that. There is a problem of poor parenting in this country and the solution to this problem is very elusive.

Certainly the solution to this problem does not rest entirely within the educational system paid for out of government funds. At the same time, I do agree with your position and the research showing that money spend on early education will reduce criminal activity as these children grow up.

Certainly there are other solutions available that have not been discussed here. I also agree with the idea that parenting skills cannot be governed effectively. Cultural change is underway to improve parenting and that sort of thing takes a long time and like watching grass grow, it can feel like no progress is being made. Perhaps I reveal my age by saying that I have seen huge improvement in the reduction of violent - corporal punishment as a way to decipline children both in homes and in schools. That is progress in better parenting of the best sort.

The truth is that you are completely correct that prison and punishment after the crime has been committed is not the only solution available.

Thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

But if policy couldn't CHANGE individual behavior, the very concept of prisons and the justice system would be moot.

What do you mean by that!! Yes, I hope you make positive changes in prison, but prison is not all about making change, its punitive. I want you to be punished for what you did!! If you decide not to make changes while in prison, then you shoud stay!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's nice that you want that, 1:28. Quaint, really. But that's not how prisons work or what they're there for, and the rest of society isn't willing to pay for the (much higher than current) incarceration rates you're demanding.

Virtually everyone who enters prison eventually leaves. Texas, eg., has 155,000 beds and releases more than 70,000 per year. Locking all who enter up forever isn't an option, even you think that's what "should" happen.

Anonymous said...

I don't want the government doing the parent's job of raising a kid. But it is the job of government to punish lawbreakers. You just don't like that. Something in you hates holding people accountable through punishment. You believe everyone, if given enough orange juice and pats on the back, will turn out alright. That is a naive, dangerous view of mankind. It will get you (and more importantly) and others hurt.

Mark#1 said...

What is up with all the wannabe punishers here? The issue is long past whether there is a positive relationship between education and being law-abiding. "Studies" and "experts" use the scientific theory and statistics to show relationships. Notice the strength of such evidence relative to someone's "hunch," "old-wives' tales" or what happened to someone's brother-in-law. The fact that reality conflicts with someone pre-conceived stereotypical beliefs reveals more about the disbeliever than it does reality. The harm--and bad laws--arise when policy is made on these commonly-held superstitions.

David C said...

I think it's interesting that so many readers have just completely ignored the evidence you've presented, and then come up with their own theories. However, simply noting a connection between education rates and criminal rates does not mean causation is involved. I think it more likely that poor individuals commit more crimes, and poor individuals also have less education.

What many people are saying is correct. Family life has a more significant effect on who does well in school than the quality of the school itself. And the US spends more per student on education than any country in the world, but we certainly don't have the best results.
Saying we need to do better simplifies the problem.

Also, some individuals posting here should learn some basic facts about prison reform:
"Recidivism rates did not differ significantly among those released after serving 6 months or less (66.0%), those released after 7 to 12 months (64.8%), those released after 13 to 18 months (64.2%), those released after 19 to 24 months (65.4%), and those released after 25 to 30 months (68.3%)"

Anonymous said...

6:54 - It might not be "society's fault" but it sure is society's problem.

And if you think it is anything other you have been badly undereducated and misinformed.

Directing money into early education, and dare I say it, perhaps even a few sex ed, or preparenting classes seems like common sense to me.

I know I'd rather have my tax dollars used that way than putting more and more and more and more people in prison which by the way, in case you hadn't noticed, ISN'T working.

And anon 10:23 if your wife is having such a miserable time dealing with all the kids that come from lousy homes because it might reflect poorly on her. I suggest that she find another line of work. I know, as a parent, I wouldn't be skipping into school to have to deal with her. And I am quite confident that my kids wouldn't be racing off to school to enjoy her company everyday.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon 2:22, please point to any specific thing I've written, either in this post or anywhere else, that leads you to believe, "Something in [me] hates holding people accountable through punishment." I've said no such thing, ever. You're arguing against some BS stereotype you carry around in your head, not anything I've written, here or elsewhere.

At this point you're just making crap up.

dirty harry said...

I've been an education and special ed advocate for almost 15 years. The key to decreasing crime and rehabilitation of certain criminals is education. (Too bad TYC hasn't figured this out.) However, the public school system is no longer about educating children. I've watched it turn into a entitlement and jobs program before my very eyes. It's now a bottomless money pit, where government agencies and their managers cash-in, and relatively very little money actually makes it into the classroom. Pre-K programs like Head Start are a prime example. I learned many years ago that the local Regional Education Service center that was in charge of the local Head Start, took a 50 percent cut right off the top of all Head Start money for "management costs" before it ever made it to the Head Start centers. For the life of me, I was never able to find out just what services were provided to head start for that money.

I know education curbs crime. But, before you dedicate another dime of taxpayer money to it, you will have to prove to me that there will be no more fingers in the till.

Anonymous said...

dirty harry - I hate to say this and I know this is going to sound really bad, and I do not mean it to be that way. The biggest farce I have ever seen when my kids were little was both Headstart and Chapter One. I do not know if that equates to Texas, I was not in the state at the time.

It seemed to me that both existed to be the show program in what amounted to as an answer (excuse) to not referring kids to appropriate special ed programs.

I know that all have issues and I am not saying this to place blame, but you can not fit every square peg into a round hole and expect it to be the answer.

I have three children with disibilities and I know that I have had to fight EVERY step of the way for what was due them under the law, appropriate placement and education in the most least restrictive environment. NO ONE offered any of it to them.

I am not privy to the money involved. I do think that these preK programs have their place and I do not want what I am saying to detract from the good that I think that they are capable of delivering.

I am saying that from my experience and what the statisics bear as far as incarcerated individuals, many have significant learning disabilities and while preK programs can't hurt, it doesn't do enough to address the complexities that exist with many of these kids/now grown adults.

Anonymous said...

I think David C made the best point. If education reduces crime, why have we spent so much and yet we live in such a violent society?

x4livin said...

Ever increasing violent ciminal society:Because now parents who spank their kids ARE the criminals and Christianity is a crime.

Mark#1 said...

But is it really such a "violent society?" Or do we perceive it as such because of the "if it bleeds it leads" 24/7 news cycle that is relatively new? I believe the DOJ statistics show that crime is at a 40-year low. "Leave it to Beaver" never really existed and it's important to avoid "good-ole-days" syndrome when making decision regarding justice policy. I mean, before CNN, did we ever hear about the double murder in Poughkeepsie (for example)?

Anonymous said...,2933,526100,00.html

Maybe we can persuade kids to make better grades!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it would help to have some perspective. Let me start with an analogy -- Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine by understanding how the polic disease mechanism worked. We don't have much of a problem with polio today because he based his efforts on the available evidence of the day. He based his approache to the problem on theory supported by the available scientific evidence. His "ivory tower" approach has been pretty tough on polio.

we need to see and understand the evidence on street crime. Public opinion often is not informed by the evidence usig stories based on personal experience as a basis for explanation. Such arguments are based on untested (perhaps untestable) beliefs and selective observations. They are NOT a credible basis for understanding crime or developing policy.

There is a vast array of sound research based knowledge about the nature of crime and what works or does not work (see research literature in criminal justice, criminology, sociology, penology, philosophy, psychology, education, economics, environmental science, history of crime and justice).

Let's consider some of what is known about street crime:
- Street crime (rape, robbery, assault, murder, theft, vandalism, car theft, etc.) is highly concentrated among the young minority males who are poorly educated, live in poverty, reside in neighborhoods where they are chronically exposed to multiple deprivation.
- Improved educational performance and higher educational attainment is strongly associated with reduced participation in street crime.
- Improved social conditions in neighborhoods are strongly associated with reduce participation in street crime.
- Poor quality schools are highly concentrated in the neighborhoods that have the many layers of adverse social conditions.
- Students attending these schools may never have a first edition text book for any subject and often fall further behind each year.
- Family circumstances and dynamics in poor families often work against educational attainment in their children (no books, functionally illiterate parents, no regular family meals, frequent periods with no food, no health care, kids without beds of their own, parents working two or three jobs without benefits, etc.)
- Few legitimate opportunities for employment.
- Chronic exposure to illegal economic opportunities.
- Research consistently finds that adverse social conditions are correlated with problem behaviors (street crime, street gangs, truancy, drop out rates, teen pregnancy, etc.).
- Policing and criminal justice policy removes some "bad actors" but does nothing about the social conditions the produce their replacements.
- Reducing street crime will depend more on prevention (i.e., before it occurs by improving education, neighborhood social conditions, replacing hopelessness with hope, safe places to play, quality affordable child care for poor families, etc.) than on enforcement (police, courts, jails, prisons, probation, parole, etc).

Justice policy needs less on reactive criminal justice and more on development of a more equitable and hopeful society in which crime prevention is understood and supported by policy makers.

Jonas Salk learned from and applied the research to control polio. When it comes to street crime we need to do the same and use what we know.

Give it some thought.

dirty harry said...

Anonymous 6/12/2009 09:57:00 PM said...
"I think David C made the best point. If education reduces crime, why have we spent so much and yet we live in such a violent society?"

I would argue that public education is no longer about education.

Anonymous said...

There is sound evidence to support early education programs. They actually increase intelligence, reduce likelihood of juvenile delinquency, increase academic achievement and have a positive impact on families of those in programs.

Of course not all crime and delinquency will be stopped. But the evidence is clearly there that increasing very early education is beneficial and is cheaper than probation, courts, police, prisons, and parole. Not to mention victimization.

Anonymous said...


While I think that your motives are altruistic, the first premise that you mention fails to point out that these crimes are those that the parties have been found guilty.

This leaves little debate as to whether the statistical analysis is in anyway valid or is laid, as so many historical hypotheses on the recorded facts or the truth at the time.

I applaud your diligence in the historical record but I think some context need be applied, especially when dealing with Texas and its criminal justice system.